Scouting report: 'Hawkeye fans are going to love Jack Nunge'
Brian Gibson answered his phone on Monday afternoon standing outside Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind. Shortly after, he wandered away from athletes running through drills. He didn’t want to be distracted, he said. He had a story to tell.
Gibson, the boys’ basketball coach at Castle, recalled a time last season, when Jack Nunge took an elbow to the face, resulting in a bloody cut above his eye. Nunge, the newest member of the Iowa basketball team’s 2017 recruiting class, left the game so a trainer could clean him up.
“We were playing in our conference tournament against an arch rival,” Gibson said. “We were ahead of that time, but slowly (after Nunge left), we lost our lead and the game went into overtime, and everybody was feeling down about themselves.”
This story is important, Gibson continued, because early in his high school career, Nunge was often labeled a soft player. He possessed height and supreme shooting ability, but the toughness required to excel beyond high school was questioned -- until that game last season.
“Jack comes running out of the locker room,” Gibson said with a chuckle. “He’s all stitched up, had wiped off the blood and was ready to go. At that point, nobody called him soft anymore. He’s really been a force for us ever since.”
Castle went on to win that game in overtime, a marquee moment during a junior season in which Nunge averaged 19.3 points, 11.4 boards and 3.7 blocks per game. His abilities quickly garnered attention – he’s tabbed as a four-star power forward and the No. 6 overall player in Indiana, according to 247Sports.
The 6-foot-10, 185-pound Nunge is Iowa’s third 2017 commit, joining Washington D.C. center Luka Garza and Iowa City West guard Connor McCaffery. His addition initially elevated Iowa’s class into the top 10 nationally, according to 247Sports. As of Tuesday morning, the group is rated No. 16.
Nunge’s verbal gives Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, Connor's father, another player who can hit shots from the outside, run the floor and defend with his length. He’s not afraid to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot. He hit 43 percent of his 3-pointers last season for Castle.
“You very, very seldom see a 6-foot-10 kid run the floor without lumbering,” said N.D. Kendrick, director of Pocket City Basketball, where Nunge plays AAU. “He plays like a 3, but with his size, it’s a little bit better for him to be at the 4 spot, but he could be interchangeable.”
Kendrick added that Pocket City never once thought of playing Nunge exclusively in the post in the hopes of taking advantage of his speed and athleticism. Gibson said Nunge scored a perfect score on the math portion of the ACT, and that intelligence often manifests itself on the basketball court, too.
Even more, Kendrick believes Nunge could become one of the featured players in McCaffery’s system.
“Specifically, with coach McCaffery’s system, the way that he plays will be very similar to Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White, but with just maybe a couple more inches in size,” Kendrick said. “I think he’s going to adjust well. Like all big guys who are fairly thin, he’s going to have to get a little bit stronger, but there’s a great track record there with McCaffery’s staff that that is going to get done.
“He’s just a multi-faceted kid. He’s a great defender. He’s really good at blocking shots. He’s really good at anticipating passing lanes. … He’s a student of the game and he really takes pride in his defensive ability.”
Shortly after Iowa offered over the summer, a slew of other schools -- Vanderbilt, Toledo and Nebraska, among others -- began showing interest in Nunge. But after a visit to Iowa City this past weekend, Nunge was sold, taking to Twitter on Sunday evening to make the announcement official.
His toughness, shooting and basketball IQ helped Nunge become a coveted college recruit. Now, those same traits are what his coaches hope will help him develop into the next standout Iowa basketball player.
“Hawkeye fans are going to love Jack Nunge,” Gibson said. “He’s a perfect fit for the style of play there. It’s going to be fun to watch him progress as the years go by at Iowa.”
Cody Goodwin covers high school sports and college basketball recruiting for The Des Moines Register. Reach him at (515) 783-4458, email him at email@example.com, or send him a tweet at @codygoodwin.